People´s views on society and nature are consistently linked to the ecosystem benefits that they prioritise. Credit: Sophie Peter.

By Sophie Peter, Gaëtane Le Provost, Marion Mehring, Thomas Müller, Peter Manning

Read the article here.

Ecosystems differ in their capacity to provide different benefits to people, known as ecosystem services, and people differ in which services they prioritise. Because groups manage ecosystems to provide the benefits they prioritise this leads to conflicts. For example, foresters may want to plant trees while farmers would like to use the same land for crops.

While the biological and physical causes of these trade-offs, and how to manage them, has received much research attention the causes of people’s differences in priority are much less understood. In this study we tested the idea that these differences can be understood in terms of cultural worldviews, by drawing on a sociological theory that classifies people according to their views on society and nature.

We tested this idea by performing a social survey in three regions of rural Germany, in which respondents of a full range of stakeholder groups (e.g. farmers, foresters, local residents, tourism operators) were asked to prioritise different ecosystem services and state their views on society and nature. The results showed that people tended to want multiple ecosystem services but that certain groups prioritised particular services. These patterns of prioritisation were, as predicted, related to their cultural worldviews. 

Prioritisation of crop and livestock production was high for farmers, associated with an individualistic worldview, the perception of nature as durable but unpredictable, and support for economic liberal, conservative political parties. In contrast, those who prioritised environmental protection often held egalitarian worldviews and perceived nature as tolerant and sensitive. These people often worked in scientific research and nature conservation and had mostly left-leaning political preferences.

Because these associations were consistent across all regions, the results suggest that certain general types of ecosystem service users can be identified. This is a useful construct for future research but could also be important in the communication of messages relating to land use and sustainability, as messages can be tailored based on the worldviews of the recipient group.